"Ugh. Jeremy, can't you get your old colleagues to fix this???"
As a career coach at the University of Michigan and a former LinkedIn employee, I got this question dozens of times throughout the winter. Here my students were networking like crazy to land jobs before graduation and, all of a sudden, their go-to networking site had just gone through a drastic makeover.
Gone was the built-in CRM system that I had taught them to use to keep track of their contacts:
Gone were the advanced search filters that sometimes justified a Premium membership:
And in their place was the now-ubiquitous loading screen every time you opened a new LinkedIn tab:
It was as if being acquired by Microsoft had sucked LinkedIn through a wormhole back into 2001:
But here's the crazy thing. As winter gave way to spring and my students' job searches went into hyperdrive, I actually found myself recommending LinkedIn more, not less.
For one simple reason: Despite all the relatively unimportant things LinkedIn had taken away, it had made its one most important feature better than ever.
LinkedIn's Most Important Feature...
With all the fanfare that LinkedIn has generated around its news feed, content, and job search tools in recent years, you might be fooled into thinking that those are the site's main attraction.
But let's be honest: If you took away all of those tools tomorrow (including, yes, this article's own platform!), the world wouldn't be drastically different. You'd still have a half-dozen other addictive feeds to devour your attention, the business press would still be churning out professional content by the terabyte, and you'd still have any number of job sites to find your next opportunity.
But imagine if, in lieu of sacrificing those features, aliens came down to earth and abducted the 280x35 pixel white box on top of them - i.e., LinkedIn search. Without that humble, little box how would you:
- Discover that you have a mutual connection at a 10-person startup who can refer you for a job?
- Figure out who the hiring manager is for a specific team within a 100K-person conglomerate?
- Get in touch with alumni from your school and functional area to find out what a secretive organization is really like on the inside?
And millions of other questions like these that, just 10 years ago, would have been nearly impossible to answer without significant quantities of time, resources, and sheer luck.
But that now have answers at the click of a button, thanks to LinkedIn search.
...Now with Less Friction
Or at least that was the promise of the old LinkedIn search. In reality, answering a question like the alumni one above would have taken about 14 clicks:
- Type "Palantir" and "Business Development" and "University of Michigan" into the search box
- Click "Search"
- See that the results weren't useful (e.g., people who used to work there, current employees who have "business development" on random parts of their profile)
- Click "Advanced"
- Click "Current Company"
- Type in "Palantir"
- Select the company from a drop-down list
- Click "School"
- Type in "Michigan"
- Select the school from a drop-down list
- Click "Title"
- Type in "Business Development"
- Select "Current"
- Click "Search"
It's enough to induce rapid onset carpal tunnel just looking at an old screenshot:
Now imagine that same flow with, literally, a single mouse click into the search box:
- Type in company:palantir school:"university of michigan" title:"business development" - followed by the Return key
Voila: Instant results.
All thanks to the introduction of search operators - those seemingly little tags (company:, school:, title:) that end up replacing a big bunch of clicks.
Which means that while I used to see LinkedIn as a search of last resort, given the complexity of the set-up, all of a sudden I found myself answering just about every student question with an instant search:
- You can't find a marketing connection at Mattel? Here are nine that went to your undergrad or grad schools:
- You want to work at a ride-sharing firm but aren't sure if they have roles for researchers? Bam, here are 333 people doing exactly that:
- You're about to give up on Slack because it doesn't have any Ross MBAs on-staff? Did you realize that it has 17 Wolverines from other programs:
The bottom line: LinkedIn search is now unleashed to move as fast and imaginatively as you do.
Now, just to be clear, this wasn't my first reaction to the new search functionality. When I first heard about the new operators, I thought:
Great. A whole bunch of text commands that no one will ever know about or use.
This wasn't a wormhole to 2001, this was positively circa 1981:
Remember DOS? Remember all the different commands you could use to get so much done???
Nope, me neither.
But then I started using the commands and realized that another historical tech metaphor was actually more apt:
The old LinkedIn advanced search wasn't the height of sophisticated technology, it was actually AltaVista reborn...
In other words, in order to get anything useful out of their massive but disorganized database of websites, you needed to apply a lot of fancy filters.
Whereas the new LinkedIn search operators weren't DOS 2.0, they were the new Google of professional search:
Because with a couple of basic commands (e.g., using quotation marks to run a phrase search), you could suddenly get accurate information at the speed of thought.
And the key lesson from Google vs. AltaVista is this:
Just like Amazon, iPhones, and Uber have proved since then, the faster you can get someone from merely thinking about something to actually getting it, the more you win.
And right now, LinkedIn search operators are poised to help the site win in a big way.
Important Data + Low Friction = A Better LinkedIn
So yes, I'm still bummed about the loss of the built-in CRM system. And yes, the loss of the Groups search filter makes the Groups messaging hack harder to pull off.
But at the end of the day, the combination of important data and a low-friction interface has always been a winning one:
- All the world's information + a simple search box = Google
- All the world's products + one-click buying = Amazon
- All the world's taxis + one-click hailing = Uber
And now, for the very first time in its 15-year history, the site you're reading right now is poised to fulfill its true potential at the nexus of these powerful forces:
All the world's professionals + one-click search = LinkedIn
And that, assuredly, is not just a different LinkedIn, but a better LinkedIn.